Why the Best Innovators Are Unreasonable

New Idea

The World’s Most Creative

  • What does it take to make it into the history books as one of the world’s greatest innovators?
  • Do creative geniuses have any unique characteristics?

Rowan Gibson, one of the world’s foremost thought leaders on business innovation, previously shared some of his thinking about his new book, The 4 Lenses of Innovation: A Power Tool for Creative Thinking.  Part of what makes his research unique is that he studied innovators throughout history to understand their thinking, their characteristics, and their methodology.  What he shared with me about history’s greatest innovators may influence the way you manage, the way you look at your boss, or the way you look at others we label as stubborn.  Because, as we will see, the best innovators are often the most unreasonable people.

 

Why the Best Innovators Are Unreasonable

Rowan, throughout your new book, you give examples ranging from da Vinci to Richard Branson. By studying these innovators, you developed a unique perspective. What does one need to possess or do to get mentioned in the history books?

I think those that make it into the history books are to some extent unreasonable people. George Bernard Shaw put it best when he argued that, “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Innovators like the ones I just mentioned – Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk –these are not reasonable people. They don’t just accept that the world is the way it is. They have this deep, insatiable urge to improve it or radically change it to fit their own vision of how things should be.

 

“You can’t harvest big ideas unless you sow the right seeds.” -Rowan Gibson

 

Unreasonable Innovator: Leonardo da Vinci

Take da Vinci. Was he a reasonable person? Here’s a man who filled 13,000 pages of notebooks with scribbles, drawings, scientific diagrams, and designs—everything from human anatomy and facial expressions to animals, birds, plants, rocks, water, chemistry, optics, painting, astronomy, architecture, and engineering. He once coated the wings of a fly with honey just to see if it would change the sound of the fly’s buzzing noise in flight. Why would anyone do that? Da Vinci did it to establish that the pitch of a musical note is connected with the speed of the percussive movement of the air. In this case the fly’s wings became heavier due to the honey, so they couldn’t beat as fast, resulting in a lower-pitched buzzing sound–which of course might be interesting at some level, but reasonable people don’t do things like that.

 

Unreasonable Innovator: Richard Branson

Let’s say you opened a little record store in London, UK. That’s nothing out of the ordinary. But would you call it “Virgin”? And would you then create your own record label and start backing unknown musicians like Mike Oldfield or controversial bands like the Sex Pistols? Would you try to grow your one little record store into a national chain of media hypermarkets? I mean, if you did all of that, it would be quite remarkable. But would you then decide to start your own transatlantic airline and go up against British Airways on their own turf? Would you try to build your own mobile phone business from scratch and then your own bank or take a big risk by investing in a space tourism company? These are not reasonable things to do. So clearly Richard Branson is not a reasonable man.

 

Unreasonable Innovator: Elon Musk

6 Steps to Building a Powerhouse Organization

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This is a guest post by James M. Kerr. James is a Partner at BlumShapiro Consulting. He is a business strategist and organizational behaviorist.  His latest book is The Executive Checklist: A Guide for Setting Direction and Managing ChangeYou can follow him on twitter.

Chemistry is the Secret to Success

The tip-off of the annual NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship triggered a question in my head: “How does a business leader build a perennial powerhouse like some of those NCAA basketball teams do every year?”

Clearly, the finest companies in the world are the ones where management and staff share an unrelenting passion to be the best.  How do leaders foster this passion for winning?  Certainly, getting the right people on the team, setting a common goal and enabling success differentiates the best from the rest.  But, there’s an intangible in the equation, the importance of which should not be ignored. It’s called chemistry.

 

Placing your highest regard on impeccable execution leaves no room for mediocrity. -James Kerr

 

Why is chemistry important?  Simply put, high performing people resent mediocre performing ones and mediocre performers begrudge those that perform at the highest level of achievement.  Indeed, getting the chemistry right is as important to the establishment of ongoing business success as garnering a talented team and constructing a compelling vision for it to follow.

We all want to be captivated by a “Big Idea.”  It’s part of the human condition to want to be part of something special and contribute to making it so.  Once enthralled, we want to be surrounded by like-minded people who share our enthusiasm and thirst to achieve.

As business leaders, it is our job to provide a vivid and exciting vision and ensure that we hire the “right” people – ones that buy in, fit in and want to work together to realize that stirring vision.  And, my friends, the latter comes down to understanding and managing “chemistry.”

 

The best businesses consistently remain fixated on being the best. -James Kerr

 

Building the “Right” Chemistry

So, what steps can be taken to shape winning chemistry within an organization?  There is no simple recipe.  However, there are six guideposts that leaders can use to move the process forward, including:

 

1. Champion a “Do Your Job” attitude – Do your job.  There is much implied in those three simple words, including being prepared, paying attention to detail, working hard, and putting the team ahead of yourself.   It also points to the need for senior leadership to ensure that every member of his or her organization understands what their job is and that they prepare every day to execute it.

Out Execute the Competition

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Irv Rothman is the president and chief executive officer of HP Financial Services, a wholly owned subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Company. Prior to joining HP, Rothman was president and chief executive officer of Compaq Financial Services Corporation where he led it from its founding to growth of over $3.7 billion in total assets.

Irv is the author of Out-Executing the Competition.  What I really admire is that Irv is donating all of the royalties he earns on the sale of the book to Room to Read, an organization dedicated to children’s literacy.

 

The best way to out-execute the other guy is to know your customer’s business as well as you know your own. -Irv Rothman

 

Attracting the Right Talent

Much of success in business is about finding and cultivating the right talent.  How did you attract and retain the talent needed to accomplish your goals?

Attracting and retaining the right people starts with a leadership commitment to first develop high performers in-house.  And this has to be more than an annual “talent management” exercise.  It’s an activity that leadership must consistently demonstrate is important by developing people and promoting from within.  This sends key messages to an organization:

1)   Leadership can be trusted to do as they say they will.

2)   Career opportunities exist…. No need to look elsewhere.

3)   Leadership recognizes and acknowledges that outside hires are a 50/50 proposition.

In short, provide an atmosphere where people can learn and achieve advancement based on merit.  Not only will the good people stick around, their hearts will be in it.

 

Developing a Culture of Execution

 

Out-Executing the Competition

Your book title is all about execution.  How do you develop a culture of execution?

A culture of execution starts with devotion to the customer.  Since it is theoretically easier to keep a customer than to find a new one, all messaging and reward systems need to be packaged around a “customer for life” philosophy.  And a pay-for-performance compensation system is a must.  Moreover, it can’t be black box; people need to be clear as to what rewards can be expected from results and behaviors.  Once you’ve got all that organized, creating an environment where people have freedom to act on behalf of the customer is crucial. You can’t have a circumstance where people are bound by the linear strictures of a traditional command and control organization. It not only frustrates your employees, it also makes for dissatisfaction on the part of the people on the other end of the phone.

Leading Through the 5 Stages of Change

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In yesterday’s post, I interviewed Jim Huling about the disciplines of execution.  The concepts in the 4 Disciplines of Execution were so fascinating, we continued the conversation.

Much of leadership is influencing people to change.  You talk about the five stages of changing human behavior.  Would you explain these and is there one stage more difficult to move through than the others?

Because changing human behavior is such a big job, many leaders face challenges when first installing 4DX.  In fact, we’ve found that most teams go through five distinct stages of behavior change.

Stage 1: Getting Clear – The leader and the team commit to a new level of performance. They are oriented to 4DX and develop crystal-clear WIGs (wildly important goals), lag and lead measures, and a compelling scoreboard. They commit to regular WIG sessions. Although you can naturally expect varying levels of commitment, team members will be more motivated if they are closely involved in the 4DX work session.

Stage 2: Launch – Now the team is at the starting line. Whether you hold a formal kickoff meeting, or gather your team in a brief huddle, you launch the team into action on the WIG. But just as a rocket requires tremendous, highly focused energy to escape the earth’s gravity, the team needs intense involvement from the leader at this point of launch.

5 Stages of Behavior Change

  1. Getting Clear
  2. Launch
  3. Adoption
  4. Optimization
  5. Habits

Stage 3: Adoption – Team members adopt the 4DX process, and new behaviors drive the achievement of the WIG. You can expect resistance to fade and enthusiasm to increase as 4DX begins to work for them. They become accountable to each other for the new level of performance despite the demands of the whirlwind.

Stage 4: Optimization – At this stage, the team shifts to a 4DX mindset. You can expect them to become more purposeful and more engaged in their work as they produce results that make a difference. They will start looking for ways to optimize their performance—they now know what “playing to win” feels like.

Master the 4 Disciplines of Execution

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In every business, strategy is vital for success.  It charts the course and sets the direction.  But, every strategist knows that so often strategic goals never take off because they are drowned by all of the other competing interests.  The daily activities of the organization starve the strategic goal.  In The 4 Disciplines of Execution, a terrific new book, authors Chris McChesney, Sean Covey and Jim Huling explain how learning four disciplines can help produce breakthrough results.

And these same concepts can be applied to achieve your personal goals.

After reading the book, I followed up with author Jim Huling to delve into the material.

Jim, for those who aren’t familiar with the four disciplines, would you walk us through them quickly?

  • Discipline 1: The discipline of focus.  Extraordinary results can only be achieved when you are clear about what matters most.  As simple as this principle may sound, few leaders ever master it.  4DX teaches why focus is so critical and how to overcome your biggest source of resistance.
  • Discipline 2: The discipline of leverage.  With unlimited time and resources, you could accomplish anything.  Unfortunately, your challenge is usually the opposite: accomplish more with less.  4DX shows leaders where they can find real leverage and how to use it to produce extraordinary results.
  • Discipline 3: The discipline of engagement.   You have the authority to make things happen, but you want more than that – you want the performance that only passion and engagement can produce.  4DX enables leaders to rise from authority-driven compliance to passion-driven commitment in themselves and the people they lead.
  • Discipline 4: The discipline of accountability.  No matter how brilliant your plan or how important your goal, nothing will happen until you follow through with consistent action.  4DX brings the practices that drive accountability and follow through, despite a whirlwind of competing priorities.